Post by Kathy Ramos, M.A., M.Ed., 12/5/14
From Personal Experience to Professional Interests in Geropsychology
My interest in Geropsychology emanated from my experiences of witnessing my grandfather’s decline due to dementia and my father’s struggle with Parkinsonism and Alzheimer’s disease. Their life stories motivated a genuine curiosity about understanding, what I like to note as the “Older Adult Experience.” I desired to know more about an age group that oftentimes felt foreign, yet dynamically complex with changing life circumstances and transitions. I also wanted to explore what it meant to be an older adult in the 21st century. I became interested in knowing more about how older adults perceived their own social status within a society that prioritizes youth and majority status. During my first year of graduate school, I realized I wanted channel my personal interests in a professional setting, including research and clinical experiences.
I was fortunate that in my early years of grad school, my advisor shared similar experiences. However, beyond his support and the general support of my program, I floundered quite a bit with my professional identity. I was unsure of where I would “fit” within the intersection of Counseling Psychology and Geropsychology. There were no “rules” or particular guidance of how my professional identity should take form. Moreover, while at my graduate program none of my peers shared these interests, and faculty members (independent of advisor) did not pursue research on older adulthood. To complicate matters, seeking practicum experiences with older adults needed to be self-sought/created. These “beginning years” as a graduate student, felt frustrating and at times really lonely. This, I believe, is a similar experience that other students and professionals with interests in Geropsychology face. How do you pursue interests and research in geriatrics when the structure of your training program or professional culture is not specifically designed to connect you to other gero-researchers or mentors? Where do you start? Who do you connect with? And, importantly, if we as counseling psychologists live and breathe social justice and multiculturalism, where is the advocacy and impetus for more of us involved in gero?
My responses to these very questions during my “floundering phase” became the cornerstone of my professional identity. I realized that in the context in which I had no particular direction, I had complete freedom to shape my professional development. I chose a trajectory that married my counseling psychology roots with my love for geropsychology. I took everything that I appreciated from Counseling Psychology (i.e., focus on assets and strengths, interest in normative development, multicultural sensitivity, and psychological growth) and used each as my lens to understand issues affecting older adults. With nothing to lose, I “cold” e-mailed researchers and clinicians, set meeting times, fostered mentoring relationships, and secured practicum experiences. It took a lot of work, but the relationships and kindness that geropsychologists and clinicians offered was a breath of fresh air. Clinical and Counseling Psychologists and other professionals with interests in older adults have been very warm and giving, and incredibly supportive. To date, I have completed clinical work in several settings (i.e., inpatient, outpatient, and in the community). I have been a provider for randomized clinical trials (RCTs) using evidence-based treatments (EBTs) and have conducted research on attachment and authenticity in late adulthood.
Now, as a pre-doctoral intern, I conceptualize older adults as multicultural beings who are adaptive and resilient, during age-related life transitions. These capacities speak to their psychological growth and attachment disposition in relating to self, others, and the world.
Why I Love What I do
My training, research, and clinical experiences reinforce that I REALLY LOVE WHAT I DO. I have been phenomenally lucky. Truly, I cannot think of any occupation or field that could feel as gratifying or meaningful. In my work, I have a unique opportunity to learn and know the histories and beautiful wisdom that older adults have to offer. I learn how they continue to develop their sense of being, have presence of meaning in life, and live authentically to their person. Moreover, I get to know them as individuals who, like other people, desire to connect with others and make a significant contribution to the world. I have never been prouder of what I do, or why I do it. My ultimate career goal is to continue my life’s work in facilitating purpose in the lives of older adults as they have given me in my personal and professional life.
About the Author
Katherine “Kathy” Ramos is a counseling psychology doctoral student at the University of Houston. She is completing her pre-doctoral clinical internship at the Durham VA in North Carolina. She is a student co-representative for Division 17, Older Adult- Special Interest Group (OASIG) for 2014-2016 and recipient of the 2014 OASIG Student Award.
Her clinical interests include:
- Delivery and examination of evidence based treatments for ethnically diverse older adults.
- Adapting meaning centered-therapies for individuals with life-limiting and terminal illnesses in hospice and palliative care.
Her research interests include:
- Addressing facilitative sources of resiliency (e.g., spirituality, emotion regulation, attachment and personality disposition) and adaptability in older adulthood to improve utilization of mental health services.
- Integrating mental health in primary care settings.
- Improving program development addressing caregiver burden to help reduce care recipient guilt in dyad dynamics.